“We’re Ham Sandwich“, says a beaming Niamh Farrell.”We’re still Ham Sandwich”. There must have been times in the past ten years when that was in doubt, in terms of the name but also their continued existence as a band. Those testing times seem long behind them though and tonight, as pretty much everything since the release of Stories From The Surface, is about celebrating the present. It’s not their first time headlining this grand old venue yet there is a sense that this time they mean business.
A little too much business perhaps. Tonight the five full time band members are joined by their regular brass / keys / violins trio plus an additional quartet of players, as well as an impressive stage production. While the latter is used to great effect, the extra musical components are deployed perhaps a little too often – in contrast to the album’s hugely effective moments of light and shade. The desire to fill this space is understandable and at best it’s stirring stuff (this is perhaps the best live act on these shores right now after all) yet at times it’s overplayed, even messy at points.
The distance they’ve travelled is evident when they dip briefly into the Carry The Meek era (“this is how we used to sound”, quips Farrell) and the orchestral arrangements are replaced by distorted guitars. You wouldn’t want a whole night of it yet ‘Words’ and a superb ‘Never Talk’ – complete with the brass section appearing up high in the Olympia boxes – are proof that the songwriting chops were always there. And it’s those songs that carry them through, no matter what the circumstances. The beautifully formed double of ‘In Perfect Rhymes’ and ‘Long Distance’ take the evening up a notch before ‘The Naturist’ sends things into overdrive. It’s followed by the show’s crowning moment, musically at any rate, as support and recent State Faces guests Third Smoke, join them to add extra vocal weight to the gorgeous ‘To Replicate’. Then, exactly four years after that memorable Forbidden Fruit moment, ‘Ants’ does what ‘Ants’ always does, connects with the audience on a major scale and the night becomes the party it always promised to be.
Having finally got the Olympia on its feet, the encore takes an odd turn with a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place’ which looks great fun on stage, if it does go above the heads of many out front. ‘Illuminate’ rescues us however, culminating in a mass of giant balloons and showering confetti. There have been times in the last few years, from the release of White Fox, when Ham Sandwich have left us choked up with emotion and a feeling that for once the underdogs were fighting back. There’s none of that tonight, as they are exactly where they should be. At long last, Ham Sandwich have brought this chapter to a close. Now for the next one…
Ham Sandwich photographed for State by Kieran Frost